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The FDA wants to reduce the amount of nicotine allowed in cigarettes

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Food and Drug Administration recently made several moves to try to reduce smoking, specifically teenage smoking. And this week, the FDA announced that it wants to cap the amount of nicotine in traditional cigarettes to make them less addictive. Joining us now to talk about all of this is NPR's Yuki Noguchi. Hi, Yuki.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right, so what is this new proposal from the FDA exactly?

NOGUCHI: Well, you know, its proposal is to reduce addiction and smoking-related death and prevent kids from smoking by reducing nicotine. And nicotine plays a big role in that because it's addictive. So the Biden administration hopes to cap the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to a very low level, and they hope that will help people quit or never get hooked in the first place. But, you know, this is a long way off. It could take years to implement, and the industry is likely to resist or fight such measures in court.

CHANG: Right. OK. And just today, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the FDA is ready to force Juul's e-cigarette products off the market. What more can you tell us about that?

NOGUCHI: Yeah. That would be a really big move because Juul is a top-selling brand. What happened is two years ago, the FDA decided it would review all e-cigarette products. So far, Juul's rivals, Reynolds American and NJOY, have gotten approvals for some of their tobacco-flavored products. But according to that news report, Juul's are going to be denied. And we don't really know yet why. The FDA declined comment. But Matthew Myers says the FDA is looking both at the chemicals in each product and its market influence. He's president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

MATTHEW MYERS: A denial of Juul's application will both have an immediate impact on eliminating products widely used by kids and send a clear message.

NOGUCHI: A message to the industry to stop marketing to young people. And he hopes taking Juul off the market would reduce teen e-cigarette use.

CHANG: Wait, I don't get it. So the FDA is allowing other e-cigarettes to be sold. Why is Juul getting this greater scrutiny here?

NOGUCHI: Yeah. I mean, you could say it's a victim of its own success. You know, when it launched in 2015, Juul hired young models and took out ads on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. These are channels kids watch.

CHANG: Right.

NOGUCHI: It billed itself as an updated, modern version of the cigarette that tasted like candy or fruit. And very, very quickly, that popularized e-cigarette use among teens. But that also caught the attention of angry parents who sued them and regulators who clamped down on them. And so Juul faces hundreds of lawsuits and a federal criminal investigation. So it's been on the defense for years now. And it's now pulled its ads. It stopped selling cartridges with sweet or fruity flavors - and, you know, even before the FDA banned the sale of those. But now it could be off the market altogether.

CHANG: Wow. That is NPR's Yuki Noguchi. Thank you, Yuki.

NOGUCHI: Thank you also. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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